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April 25, 2012 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Re-imaging the last meal aboard the R.M.S. Titanic

Dine Titanic. MARCIN JM ©DIAMOND SHOT STUDIO.

About 10 weeks ago, Chef Rob McCue (Hell’s Kitchen, Fox) and Chef Adam C. Banks (Roble & Co., Bravo TV) summoned me to John Allan’s, a gentleman’s den nestled amidst the towering cathedrals of midtown Manhattan.

There was a pool table, a comfy leather couch and far too many amber elixirs (neat) to go around the room. I hadn’t seen Chef McCue since this collaboration from September 2011. McCue introduced me to Chef Banks and spoke of an epic culinary adventure, that could potentially use my creative stamp. The centennial anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic was to be April 14th of this very year, 2012. To commemorate the night, he and Baks were planning to serve the very same meal those fateful first-class diners enjoyed before the inevitable demise of her majesty Titanic.

Interesting, I thought. But, why? What would be the purpose of re-creating a meal where the dishes themselves are by today’s standards, mildly interesting? What would the great people of this upstanding nation think, or how would they respond to a group of rogue culinary masterminds plotting to dish up the Titanic’s last meal? (I heard the voice of Jeff Morgan, a good winemaker friend whom I’ve turned to for advice in recent months, ask, “Was it Kosher?”)

The answer came to me after those burning amber waves of grain slowed my mental process down to the tune of a noble cause: Yes. Yes, we can I thought! Yes, we can recreate the last meal served aboard the Titanic, if… if…if and only if we dedicated ourselves to a far greater cause: to re-imagine the last meal as if it might have been served “today.

Let us imagine that the R.M.S. Titanic had passed the iceberg and sailed into New York; if she were still out roaming the seas today, carting passengers to and from the coasts of the world. We would pay homage to the Titanic by focusing on the jubilant moments during that final meal, before the threat of danger was prevalent and when nothing by exuberance and ecstasy filled the hearts of the souls aboard the ship. To be aboard the Titanic, meant to be sailing upon a vessel the entire world was curious about – a veritable Ark, that sadly betrayed its passengers. However, by tapping into the energy and excitement that surely permeated her walls during these exultant moments, we would memorialize the passengers and crew in uplifting fashion.

The menu, it was decided, would be composed of the very ingredients and components from the original First Class menu (copies survived in pockets of a few who escaped). Our twenty-first century version would condense 11 courses to 7, and elevate the cuisine to modern standards of culinary deliverance. The next eight weeks would prove to be a Titanic undertaking, indeed.

In my mind, the beginning of this journey was marked by what I believed to be the most important questions to ask: What wines will we serve – and why? No record exists of the wines that were paired with the many meals served. There are accounts from The White Star Line’s distributors of what had been purchased and what was on board: mainly French, Italian, German and Portuguese wines. Enter: the Galloni’s. That’s right, Antonio Galloni.

On our behalf, they reached out to a distributor whose wines fit the bill of what we were hoping to accomplish with respect to pairings. I’m incredibly thankful to the Galloni’s for having made an important introduction, and from there we began to assemble our wines. To help complete that task, enter: Master of Wine, Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan.

The stunning, lovely, brilliant, Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, Master of Wine (and lover of cocktails).

Jennifer is truly Master of the House (I’m singing Les Mis in my head) and her enthusiasm and support turned an evening of impressive wine pairings into an evening of brilliantly planned and thought-out pairings. Her goal was to help source wines from brands that existed in 1912 or before. Trying to source actual wines from 1912, and enough to pair each course for 80+ diners, was well out of our budgetary means and frankly unrealistic (we were this close (   ) to landing that $250,000 sponsorship from NASA – alas, another time). Jennifer’s approach made sense, and all our combined efforts produced this fabulous list of wines/courses:

First Course
Oysters a la Russe
Local Long Island Oysters, Tomato, Vodka, Horseradish
2009 Domaine Ferret Pouilly Fuisse (First Class)
2008 Domaine Ferret Pouilly Fuisse Les Menetrieres. (VIPs)

Second Course
Consomme Olga
“Vesiga,” Celeriac Root, Vegetable Garni
2006 Alvear Fino (First & VIP Class)

Third Course
Butter Poached Wild Salmon
Cucumber, Mousseline Sauce, Salmon Skin
2010 Dopff & Irion (First & VIP Class)

Fourth Course
Filet Mignon Lili
Potatoes Anna, Artichoke, Foie Gras, Black Truffle
2007 Chateau Manon La Lagune. (First Class)
2005 Chateau Millon Saint Emilion Grand Cru (VIPs)

Fifth Course
Punch Romaine
Ginger Oil, Rum, Champagne, Frothed Egg White

Sixth Course
Squab & Watercress
Asparagus, Squab Reduction
2009 Joseph Drouhin Chorey les Beaune (First Class)
2009 Joseph Drouhin Gevrey Chambertin (VIPs)

Dessert Course
Mock Waldorf Pudding, Suspended Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly, Eclairs
Taylor Fladgate 10 year old tawny (First Class)
Taylor Fladgate 40 year old Tawny (VIPs)

***

Louis XIII de Remy Martin (VIP Class only)

Louis XIII de Remy Martin. MARCIN JM ©DIAMOND SHOT STUDIO.

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And what is stellar wine without a stellar wine-pouring team? I assembled a group of some of New York’s finest Somms and impresarios, who together bedazzled our guests with their wine-speak and exemplary service. They shall be named:

Morgan Harris, Sommelier Captain
Tanner Walle, Sommelier
Katarina Maloney, Sommelier
Leiti Hsu, Sommelier
Ramon Del Monte, Sommelier

Mayur Subbarao (Bittermens, EVOE)

Tanner Walle, Morgan Harris, Leiti Hsu. MARCIN JM ©DIAMOND SHOT STUDIO.

Look at Katarina Maloney pour! Absolutely stunning! MARCIN JM ©DIAMOND SHOT STUDIO.

Ramon Del Monte (far right) pouring Laurent-Perrier. MARCIN JM ©DIAMOND SHOT STUDIO.

Mayur Subbarao. MARCIN JM ©DIAMOND SHOT STUDIO.

Without the support of these upstanding libationists, I would not have been able to focus on my most important and immediate task at hand: to prevent the Titanic from sinking.

In his book, From Time to Time, author Jack Finney reveals the story of a government agency dubbed, The Project, in which Einstein’s theories of time, space and travel are employed to transport members of The Project back in time. The Project’s process of transporting a person back in time is rooted in deep mediation practices, imagery and the presence of a “gateway,” a place that exists in the present and in the past. Some examples are the Statue of Liberty, The Dakota, certain areas of Central Park, etc. For one to be successful in traveling back to another time, one must be present in one of these gateways and in practice, settle into a state of mental deceleration. That is: to let the present move ahead and let the past catch up. Through self-hypnosis and meditation, one has the ability to latch onto “threads” of the past, according to Finney, and connect to and exist in another time.

The evening of April 14, 2012 – the centennial of the sinking of the Titanic – presented a gateway and the potential to change history in a serious way – I set out to do just that. To help in my righteous quest, to assist me in dreaming the impossible dream, was the Captain of the R.M.S. Titanic and the Jotta Girl, a character from Finney’s book:

Abe Danz, Captain RMS Titanic, Caitlin Bebb aka the Jotta Girl. MARCIN JM ©DIAMOND SHOT STUDIO. Effects by Time Travel.

Jonny warning the Jotta Girl not to interfere with his plans to warn the captain of the ice bergs. MARCIN JM ©DIAMOND SHOT STUDIO. Effects by Time Travel.

In the words of Neil Diamond, “I’ve got an emptiness deep inside and I tried: but it won’t let me go.” And so, to help me “let go,” came the generous support of one of my best, best friends in the world: an amber wave of grain, a mountainous glass of majesty, the color of a California sunset, a libation that has been in existence since the 1800s, well-sipped over the evening to help settle me in under the influence of a decelerated state of mind, ole faithful: Glenmorangie.

Can you feel that 1912 in the air?!?!?! I felt it. MARCIN JM ©DIAMOND SHOT STUDIO

Finally, underscoring the evening – the journey that is – was perhaps the finest addition to the entire Dine Titanic fete: Chrome Canyon featuring  Icky Doom of Shad[]wb[]x (computer) and Megan Sears (cello). The account of the musicians playing as the ship sank is essentially common knowledge – and the moment is memorialized in James Cameron’s leviathan of a movie. Instead of a string trio or quartet, eerie sounds, ethereal sounds, sampled air, ocean and bits of “Nearer My God To Thee” were sampled into hypnotic, persistent, dark undercurrents of depth-inducing sounds. They looked like this:

wb[]x (computer) and Megan Sears (cello).  MARCIN JM ©DIAMOND SHOT STUDIO”]

Chrome Canyon. MARCIN JM ©DIAMOND SHOT STUDIO

And with that, good reader, good wino, good foodist, good friends, I leave you to a short documentary of my experience and a rhetorical question: what do you recall about the Titanic? Is it possible that some of you now have a memory of her docking in New York City in 1912?

For links to Press and more photos visit: DineTitanic.com

Wine Evangelist Jonathan Cristaldi (Jonny Cigar), Chef Rob McCue, Chef Adam C. Banks. MARCIN JM ©DIAMOND SHOT STUDIO

October 6, 2011 1 comment Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

The Noble Rot and Google Bring About Revolution

Left to right: Christine Wells, Greg Grossman, Rob McCue, Michael Cirino, Jonny Cigar. The Noble Rot Presents: The Culinary/Libation Revolution in collaboration with Google. Photo by Katie Sokoler.

On Tuesday, September 27th, 2011, just days before the New York Food and Wine Festival the Noble Rot teamed up with Google Places to present a revolutionary event: The Culinary/Libation Revolution.

This was the big idea: discuss the prevalent culinary and libation movement sweeping our nation dinner table by dinner table. What movement, Jonny? Why the very movement that in recent year has seen the uprising of supper clubs and inventive chefs, the uses of “modern cookery” in the home kitchen, an emphasis on local, fresh, organic ingredients, the use of liquid nitrogen! and sous-vide cooking techniques, the madness of the wine trade and the emergence of thousands of brands trying to carve out a niche in organic, biodynamic boutique productions. Why man, the list goes on and on! Why woman, the list goes up and up!

40 terrific people were granted a ticket to this event. They worked hard, writing reviews of food and drink establishments in NYC. They were rewarded with lively entertainment, which thrilled and revived the senses.

Amanda and Leiti posing with Swanson Vineyards 2009 Pinot Grigio. Photo by Katie Sokoler.

The incentive to win a coveted spot fell on the chance to hear from and meet our panel of super-star guests. I invited Michael Cirino (a razor, a shiny knife), Cathy Erway (Not Eating Out in NY) and Rob McCue (celeb Chef from Hell’s Kitchen) to take part in a discussion at the top of the evening. We created a mini-theater inside 16 Beaver Street Studios in downtown Manhattan and engaged in wild conversation, which we recorded as our inaugural “Noble Rot Talks” podcast. You are encouraged to listen by visiting: www.thenoblerot.com/podcast

Left to right: Michael Cirino, Rob McCue, Jonny Cigar, host of Noble Rot Talks podcast series. Photo by Katie Sokoler.

Cathy Erway sadly was pulled away last minute to Germany for some kind of beer thing and who wouldn’t pass up a beer thing in Germany, ya know? Conversation with Michael and Rob was thoroughly engaging, though Mr. Cirino was a bit antagonistic, which is his per usual. That’s why we love Michael. Or perhaps we love his mustache. Either way, think of it like this: Cathy has authored a book called, “The Art of Eating In” and thus her world revolves around not eating out; preparing meals at home using fresh locally-sourced ingredients. She is an absolute locavore. Michael’s cooking focuses on the use of modern techniques, i.e., sous-vide, vacuum marinating, thickening agents and frighteningly long words to describe salt. Rob McCue is a celebrity chef from season eight of Hell’s Kitchen, who admits that he, “Went through hell,” battling it out on the program. McCue’s hell however is distinctly sandwiched between Cirino and Erway’s culinary realities. As a contestant on Hell’s Kitchen, Rob performed under intense stress and pressure in a national spotlight. Reality cooking shows have inspired a “think-fast” society of foodies, where chefs are challenged to use only the ingredients that are available on the chopping block. This kind of cooking requires a talent that spans a mastery of home cooking to working in a fast-paced professional kitchen. McCue has to be able to perfectly execute a meal for two or two hundred where consistency is the mark of his skill.

I certainly missed having Cathy’s take, but Rob and Michael provided a brilliant dialogue and guests were entertained by the notion that modern cooking is a bit on the dark side right now and simple cooking with that focus on fresh and local is representative of the lighter side of this revolution.  I posited the notion that inventive supper club cooks and chefs are helping pave the way for change in the way Americans approach the dinner table. The more people engage online, sharing and talking about their food and drink experiences at these clubs, with impassioned bravado, the more pop culture Chefs are having to sit up and pay attention. That kind of interaction is changing the way many Chefs approach food service in their restaurant spaces.

Noble Rot Chef, Christine Wells and assistant Greg Grossman, helped to execute the menu below, which was designed by Mr. Rob McCue. They did a stellar job. The food was revolutionizingly delectable.

Le Menu. Photo by Katie Sokoler.

Alright, Jonny! All this food talk!?!? What about the wine? I know. I know. But here’s the deal: food and wine go together like a horse and buggy. Ya know? Food is augmented by wine and wine is transformed by food. Do not, young squire, get me wrong: I absolutely love to drink wine on its own – but I really love wine when it is shared over a meal and over good conversation. And wine elevates conversation just as it does the meal.

We poured wine from Swanson Vineyards, where I’m currently hosting “Salon” tastings as part of my #Harvest experience. Winemaker Chris Phelps makes structured wines that have bright acidity and fabulous mouth-feel. We tasted his 2009 Oakville Pinot Grigio ($21),  2007 Oakville Merlot ($38) and a late harvest Chardonnay called Tardiff ($80). We also poured a 2009 Shaya, old-vine Verdejo Spanish white wine ($12), and a Portuguese white, the 2009 Gazela Vinho Verde ($6).

The lovely Laura Huben poses with Swanson Vineyards Late Harvest Chardonnay "Tardiff." Photo by Katie Sokoler.

In the light vs dark scenario, price was our focus for the wines and people enjoyed the $6 Vinho Verde as much as they enjoyed the $38 Merlot. Yes, we’re talking apples to oranges with respect to the wine, but in terms of enjoyment, the feeling was mutual. The Merlot paired beautifully with a rich, sous-vide Short Rib and generated moans of absolute satisfaction while the Gazela was the perfect sipping wine that we poured during the podcast recording and gave people a certain kind of pep in their walk.

To my great satisfaction a dear friend, really a criminal, performed a few musical numbers that inadvertently involved…me. Mr. Jonathan Samson – perhaps one of the most talented musicians I know – and who teaches music therapy to children, is himself a child of notorious proportions. Well, apparently so am I. So we entertained ourselves and several people who were watching from five feet away, while others continued to drink and be merry in the recesses of the room.

You had to be there to understand this. Jonathan Samson ladies and gent. Photo by Katie Sokoler.

Many thanks to Google Places and our friend Esther Brown for inspiring us to host this event. Check them out on Twitter and Facebook.

I’ll be back in New York as of November 2. Until then, you can “tune in” each Wednesday to hear another Noble Rot Talks podcast — which will very shortly (hopefully by next Wednesday) be available via iTunes, where yee may subscribe and listen upon yer leisure.

Finally, I’d love to see some comments and thoughts from you good readers about your take on the “light and dark” side of the current state of our culinary and libation based affairs. Cheers – Jonny. All photos by Katie Sokoler.

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